Musings on personal growth, books, motherhood, writing, and more. "Every hour is saved from that eternal silence, something more, a bringer of new things." – Tennyson
Following my last post about my struggle to accept limitations and set realistic goals, I want to share a very simple, practical trick I have found to help myself plan more realistically. It’s so simple, I can’t believe it took me this long to think of it! But I guess that’s just how growing up works.
The trick is to add a second step to making to-do lists. After I make my long list of “things I want to do today” (or this weekend, this month, etc.), then I make a new list: “things I choose to do today.” This list is always much shorter than the first, and in making it I force myself to think realistically and by priority. I should be able to easily accomplish the “choose to do” list, that is, if circumstances cooperate as I expect them to.
Because it’s hard to say no to all the unselected things on my “want to do” list, usually the last item on the “choose to do” list is “other things on ‘want to do’ list as time and energy allow.” If time and energy do allow, sometimes I’ll go back to the “want to do” list, cross off the things I’ve already done, and number the remaining items by priority. Other times, if nothing is especially pressing, I just do whatever I feel like doing.
But the key lies in the process of making the making the “choose to do” list. It involves (to use a term from Dialectical Behavior Therapy) radical acceptance of the fact that I will probably not get all my “want to do” things done. It’s hard, but it leaves me freer to focus on the things I have chosen to do. And thus it makes for a wiser, happier, and more effective day (week, month, etc.).
The other day I got brave and took a photo, above, of one of my actual to-do lists to show you what I mean. “W2D” and “C2D” are my shorthand for “want to do” and “choose to do,” of course. (The symbols beside some of the items are part of a little shorthand code I developed for myself a long time ago. I’ll put the code at the end of this post for those who are interested.)
But let me show you what it looks like before I put any tasks on the list:
I set up the structure like this before I add tasks to it because this is the way to get my mind to cooperate. For one thing, the line gives me a visual limit for my “want to do” list–because there is never actually an end to the things I want to do in any given moment, and if I let myself have too much space for it, I would just keep going and going. I could probably fill a whole notebook with things I want to do before even stopping to stretch my hand muscles! And the same holds true for the “choose to do” section, which gets less space than the “want to do” section for a reason. But I’m sure by now I don’t need to spell that one out for you!
Also, just writing “(1) W2D” and “(2) C2D” gets me in the right frame of mind for filling out the list. In fact, knowing that I’m going to do the “choose to do” step allows me to give myself a bit of free rein in the “want to do” section–that’s where I indulge my inner-child side and let my desires run wild. (You may not be able to tell that from my example list above, since that day had a particularly large number of practical tasks needing to be accomplished. Other days, the tasks are more about writing projects, learning projects, and so forth–that’s when I get really excited.)
Then in the “choose to do” section I bring out my inner-parent side for the wise self-parenting I talked about last time. I usually add in the things that I may not have even put on the “want to do” list (like, um, actual work for my job–all the other tasks are for any free moments I get between customers and work tasks. It’s not that I’ll forget to do my job, but this helps me remember the right priorities–and gives me another thing to check off at the end of the day!). I always make sure to write “self-care” at the top of the list–sometimes with stars and exclamation points, on days when I know I’ll really need that visual reminder to take care of myself and not let my mind run ahead of my body.
So, that’s a long-winded explanation of a very simple thing that is helping me live more wisely!
My little shorthand code for to-do list items:
} work on
^ think about
% research, look up, look into